Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Virtuoso Strings in Long Beach

Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra.


Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, Beverly O'Neill Theater, Long Beach

Martin Haselböck.
The term "virtuoso" is bandied about a lot these days, not always deservedly, but it was certainly appropriate in entitling Musica Angelica's season-opening concert the other night at the Beverly O'Neill Theater "Virtuoso Strings."

Music director Martin Haselböck led a program of Baroque music that featured a stellar group of string players, each of whom is, in a word, a virtuoso. The playing was phenomenal, individually and collectively. These Musica Angelica concerts, an aggregation of soloists—14 total on this occasion—playing as an ensemble, invariably showcase authentic performance practices executed at the highest level.

There were the usual suspects: co-concertmasters Ilia Korol and Cynthia Roberts, cellist Alexa Haynes-Pilon and violone player Denise Briesé are familiar talents whose transcending excellence is a regular feature of these concerts. And a new star was born, violinist YuEun Kim from Korea by way of USC, where she studied with Midori. She has a sparkling personality to go with her exceptional virtuosity.

Engraving of Heinrich Biber, dating from 1681.
Haselböck's well-chosen program began with the very odd Battalia à 10 by Heinrich Biber (1644-1704), from 1673. As Haselböck explained in his typically jocular, rambling introductory remarks, the piece, an early example of program music, depicts a group of soldiers who battle, celebrate drunkenly, dance, battle some more, and then mourn the wounded.

The second movement calls to mind Charles Ives, with four tunes going simultaneously in different keys, while the third imitates the sound of fife (violin) and drum (violone, with paper under the strings).

Elsewhere there are other striking instrumental effects; the players stomp their feet, play with the wood of the bow, and snap pizzicatos to simulate musket fire. Stuff like that. The piece is an unalloyed hoot.

Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) and his hyperfamiliar Canon in D are more often encountered at weddings than in the concert hall. Here, eschewing the Romantic approach of Jean-François Paillard's famous 1968 recording, the piece received a brisk, unsentimental, yet very stylish reading, as did Pachelbel's less familiar Gigue that followed.

The bulk of the program consisted of concertos by two giants of the Baroque, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). The latter wrote over 40 double concertos, where two instruments share the spotlight, and his Concerto for Violin, Violoncello and Strings in B-flat, RV547, is typical. Violinist Kim and cellist Haynes-Pilon, each a master of the style, clearly lived up to that virtuoso label. Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in B minor, RV 580, No. 10 from the Op. 3 collection L'Estro armonico, was later transcribed by Bach for four harpsichords. This dazzling performance featured astonishing pyrotechnics from Korol and Roberts, Kim, and Mishkar Nuñez-Fredell.

After intermission came Bach. His Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, BWV 105 was written for the unusual combination of two violas, here played by Korol and Cynthia Black, two violas da gamba (Justin-Haynes Pilon and Malachai Bandy), and continuo (Haynes-Pilon, Briesé, and Haselböck at the harpsichord). The interplay of instruments, especially between the two violas, was a delight, although a stronger player than Black would have been a better match for Korol's incisive playing. He, Roberts, and Kim returned to throw off more virtuosic sparks in Bach’s Concerto for Three Violins in D, BWV 1064. And then the group assembled for the perfect encore, a sheerly beautiful performance of the serene slow movement from Bach's  Third Orchestral Suite, BWV 1068, more familiarly known as the Air on the G String.

This is the 27th season of Musica Angelica’s existence, its fifth headquartered in Long Beach. All the players are experts in Baroque style, and they employ authentic, or replica, period instruments. They continue to play this attractive, irresistible repertoire as well as it can be played. They're a confederation of virtuosos, and there’s that word again.


Virtuoso Strings, Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, Beverly O'Neill Theater, Long Beach, Friday, September 27, 8 p.m.
Photo: Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra: Orchestra Facebook page; Martin Haselböck: Meinrad Hofer; Biber: Wikimedia Commons.

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